Home > consciousness, cosmology, philosophy, physics, universe > Putting the Meta in Metaphysics

Putting the Meta in Metaphysics

The space view of matter

Matter as solid three dimensional objects or obstructions in a void. Classical mechanics. Even liquids or gases are miniature solid objects in motion.

Corpuscularianism is a physical theory that supposes all matter to be composed of minute particles. The theory became important in the seventeenth century; amongst the leading corpuscularians were Rene Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and John Locke.”

Under this view, space is absolute in that it is a context within which objects exist. That context can be assigned x,y,z coordinates and position is conceived as being fixed to those real coordinates. Descartes’ Res Extensa equates the property of extension with ‘corporeal substance’.

The space view of matter is one of the most tangible aspects of naive realism, which also gets very meta, since the space view of matter makes matter seem most tangible. If you can touch it, it’s matter, and by extension (metaphorical extension) into philosophy, what is touchable matters. What is real? The space view of matter says that bodies colliding with bodies in a volume of space is real.

The space view of energy

Scientific views of energy from a spatial perspective describe certain kinds of changes to a field, which is in turn defined as a ‘condition in space’. In quantum mechanics, even a perfect vacuum is considered a space which contains the condition of vacuum energy. This gives rise to a chicken-egg paradox. If there’s no vacuum except one that is filled with ‘energy’, how can we really claim that space exists other than the extension of energy?

The folk conception of ‘energy’ is often as a radiant aura of effects such as increasing light, warmth, or color saturation accompanied by dynamic patterns such as vibration, emanation, and an expansive shift in awareness. This view is considered a pseudoscientific view, since the symptoms of energy that we encounter in the world are not technically ‘energies’ themselves but more like statistics about changes to material substances as approximated by our sensory detection methods.

What energy is in scientific terms is quite abstract really. Physicists don’t generally think in terms of energy as a concrete presence in space, but more of a value that is used in equations about how to cause masses to change position. Energy is an immaterial variable which is conserved within quantitative analyses of how work gets done. In that sense, energy does not ‘exist’ in the physical world that we experience, so much as it is a theoretical influence which governs changes to the physical world (which we may or may not experience).

The space view of energy is perhaps the polar opposite of the space view of matter in that it is anchored in intangibility rather than tangibility. Tesla comes to mind as a someone whose genius included a talent for seeing spatialized energy in a concrete way. His famous quote

‘If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.’

bridges the space view of energy and the time view of energy.

The space view of time

The space view of time is easily understood in terms of animation cels or a film strip. Time is a sequence of changes to some region of space. By running these changes at a fast enough rate, our perception drops the sense of separately framed spaces and is seduced into a temporal illusion of animation in a single region.

The space view of time has a powerful influence on physics and computer science which quantizes time as Planck units or CPU cycles. Linear causality appears as a dimension of seriality which governs any number of changes acting in parallel on any number of other space-like dimensions. The space view of time turns cuts across distances orthogonally as duration.

The time view of space

To think of space as a feature of time, we can use the example of a dream or a story in a book about a place. Spatial relations can be described over time without there being any actual space to reference. A first person shooter video game emulates our subjective perspective of space as a stream of events which pass in front of our view, giving an impression of a world. In fact, every space created in a computer game is created purely as the result of a very rapid series of instructions in time which paints an illusion of space beneath our threshold of perception.

The time view of energy

Like the time view of space, the time view of energy can be conceptualized as a computer program. How does a computer program, which is a sequence of instructions executed in time, produce an energy-like effect? I think the answer is that from this vantage point, space and energy are merely qualities or patterns within time. By modulating the relative speed and location of some group of changing pixels, the game designer can produce the illusion of a moving avatar in the foreground. The real changes to the pixels are uniform refreshes of the video RAM (which I think is why CGI tends to give itself away by the unnatural gliding motions of objects), so that there is nothing which is actually accelerating other than the audiences perception of what is displayed on the screen.

The time view of matter

Sticking with the computer metaphor, the time view of matter is as events which are changing at a relatively slower rate than other events. Matter becomes a geometry of continuous inertia within a temporal flow. Matter is just slow energy from the time perspective.

The matter view of space

By pivoting the point of focus from space to matter, there is no concrete thing which frames objects. Instead, the only space that there is would be the distance between objects. Distance is the absence of material which divides matter into separate instances. This view makes more sense to me and matches our naive intuition. Relativity shows that without some third frame of reference, there is no difference between passing a train and standing still while another train passes you. Since motion is relative, and distance is only a division of matter, the matter view of space can be thought of as ‘not-even-a-void’. Space becomes a non-entity.

The matter view of energy

From this perspective, energy is a change in the quality and behavior of matter. When we say that energy is just how matter does material things, energy too becomes a non-entity. This view also supports our naive realism. When we use microwaves to heat something, for example, we see that the food seems to be cooking itself, sort of dancing to the buzz of an invisible stimulation. While we can plot out wave patterns in the effect of this stimulation by placing material objects near a microwave emitter, the waving would be something that is only happening to the matter itself, not to space or any field condition of it. The only micro-wave that there is would be a waving of syncrhonized acceleration between an emitter’s molecules and the molecules of another object. A radio wave would not be a literal thing moving through space, but rather the time between the transmitter being energized and the receiver imitating that energized state would be a measure of the difference in scale between the scale of mountains and cities vs the scale of human sense organs. We experience a delay between the transmission and the reception, but on the scale of the transmission, it is actually instantaneous.

The matter view of time

If energy is nothing but what matter does, then time is nothing but an emergent factor of the relative rate of those changes. As Einstein said “Time is what a clock measures.” The matter view of time would take this absolutely literally. There would literally be no entity of time, only the act of comparing the positions of a clock in a measured way. Time would be like a theme found mainly within chemical reactions which are irreversible.

The energy view of matter

Switching to the perspective of energy probably requires shifting to a purely mathematical style of thinking. Energy doesn’t really correspond to any natural entity that we can point to. Looking at the mass-energy equivalence, we can imagine that matter would be a structure which has mass, and that there is a trade off between the loss of structure or mass and the gain in energy. It is not widely understood that in a nuclear explosion, very little matter is actually converted to energy. Most of the energy released is from the re-organization of light elements into heavier atoms (fusion), or the fission of heavy atoms into lighter elements. The periodic table is divided into two by what is known as the ‘iron peak’, with elements lighter than iron releasing energy when they fuse together, and elements heavier than iron releasing energy when they break apart.

E=mc² makes energy equivalent to mass and something like spacetime squared. Spacetime squared is a pure quantitative abstraction of physics, but I think it is possible to grasp it in common sense terms as a universal growth constant. What is expansion of spacetime other than the growth of new spaces and times, and/or new scales of space and time within spacetime? I don’t understand a lot of Kelvin Abraham’s Tetryonics, but his description of mass as a two dimensional phenomenon as distinct from matter (3d) rings true to me. Since energy is equivalent to ‘maximally growing mass’ in this thought experiment, the difference between matter and energy from the point of view of energy would be only that matter has condensed its growth into a 3d volume by minimizing the 1d time dimension (slowing down).

The energy view of time

For energy, I think time is frequency and thermodynamic irreversibility. Similar to the matter view of time, except instead of being what a clock measures, a clock would be re-imagined as a source of resistance to some process of energy release, like a spring relaxing. The spring would be a generic source of mass to inhibit the constant release of energy, and that inhibition would define the speed of the ‘clocking’ which we call time. In electrical terms, time would be what energy uses to become ‘powerful’. A kilowatt-hour is a measure of power. It’s like a metaphysical nozzle which steps the boundaryless presence of Energy (E) into the physical dynamics of storage and release as matter. Something like that. This view requires more knowledge of physics than I have

The energy view of space

I’m not sure about this either, but I would guess that energy’s view of space is interchanageable with time. Space is just another dimension of energy’s division into storage and release events. Depending on your frame of reference, energy release can appear space-like (parallel) or time-like (serial). The difference between time and space from the view of energy would seem to be a problem, as far as it requires some extra influence to explain how reference is framed in the first place, and why it should parallelize one side of energy and serialize the other. Could the storage of energy be intrinsically spatial while the release is intrinsically temporal? Is time the release of energy and space the containment of energy? I’ll leave that to someone who knows what they are talking about.

The information view of physics

The Matrix. Simulation hypothesis. Holographic universe. Digital Physics. Strong computationalism. The view of physics as information has captured the imagination of many. The rise of television and video games has certainly given this view more weight than in previous centuries. We can see first hand how electronic functions can be manipulated to encode and decode physical sensory impressions. All that is left is to take the leap of faith between ‘looks like a duck, quacks like a duck’ and ‘duck’ and we have a model of physics which emerges from statistical relations alone.

The physics view of information

Just as the information view of physics causes matter to evaporate into abstract schemas, the same thing happens to information when we pivot to the view of information from physics. All that is necessary to contrive ‘information’ is a willingness to let mass, energy, space, and time interact in accordance with laws derived from empirical fact rather than rational theories. We live in this world just because of a physical history that happened to take place, rather than any kind of universal inevitablity. We could invoke a kind of objective solipsism, where everything that we think is conscious experience or information is nothing but a physical precipitate which seems metaphysical to us by accident of neurology.

The subjective view of objects

Similar to the information view of physics in that physics evaporates into illusion or ‘maya’, but the particular information which constitutes any given experience of physics would be anchored in the subject’s power to perceive and participate. This is the ‘thoughts create reality’ model of the universe which enjoys continued popularity in New Age circles. As with any subjective model, it suffers from unfalsifiability. You can always say that your wishes failed to materialize because you weren’t ready for it, or you lacked faith or humility or some other subjective skill.

The objective view of subjects

An equally naive perspective in my estimation, pivoting to the objective, third person view is just as unfalsifiable and even more intuitively unpalatable. Instead of solipsism and anthropomorphism, we have what I call nilipsism and mechanemorphism. The compulsion to inflate every event as ‘meant to be’ or connected with a divine plan for personal growth, there is an opposite compulsion to deflate every event as accidental or connected with mechanical conditions of bodies and their biological evolution. It’s version of superstition is to attribute anything special or unusual to random mutation, coincidence, and confirmation bias.

The entropy view of significance

Here I am mixing my own use of the term ‘significance’ with the more formal concept of entropy. I see both of these concepts as equally vague in the end as entropy is contingent upon arbitrary/subjective framing of what is being considered a ‘system’.  Using an example here is helpful. Let’s say that the high value of gold is an example of what I mean by ‘significance’. Gold is considered more significant than dirt. The entropy-oriented view sees gold as something like ‘a kind of dirt’, as far as that there is nothing special about atoms with 79 protons which doesn’t reduce to various chemical and electrical properties. The high value of gold by Homo sapiens is seen as a very, very complex development over millions of years which involves arbitrary connections between human perceptual systems and meaningless qualities like shinyness and color combined with economic laws of supply and demand.

The significance view of entropy

From the vantage point of what I call ‘significance’ (*aesthetic saturation and popularity), all experiences and phenomena are perfect, beautiful, meaningful, etc. Entropy is the dilution of that appreciation of perfection – an insensitvity to the specialness and uniqueness of every fragment of being. Dirt, we could say, is another kind of gold. The universe is an ecstatic creation of incomprehensible majesty, and it can only seem less than that by the grace of an equally majestic filtering or diffraction of the absolute. Of course, this filtering only serves to increase the appreciation of the unfiltered brilliance of nature, so it is comparable to the power = energy / time relation. The universe appears shittier than it is in any given frame of reference, because it is the gap between perfection and shitty which is doing the framing.

The causal view of creation

In conventional cosmology, the universe is either caused by an uncaused influence, or it is caused by an infinite chain of causes. Time here is seen to be a metaphysical constant which is insuperable. The Big Bang is either caused by we-don’t-know-what, or it is part of an eternal repeat of Bang-Crunch cycles.

The creative view of causality

Pivoting to a ground of being which is independent of causality, we see time or causality as a construction within consciousness. This has some support in our subjective experience, i.e. dreams and other altered states of consciousness can confabulate histories spontaneously or dissolve coherence of events. The appearance of causality could be just another structure which rises and falls from an eternal fugue of delirious content.

The scientific view of religion

At the dawn of the scientific revolution, the physical universe was considered to be a reflection of divine intelligence. Over the last five or six hundred years, this appreciation of the natural world as a source of spiritual awe has gone through a process of disenchantment. The alchemical revelations of Newton and Kepler were replaced by the more secular deism of the 17th and 18th centuries. The rise of naturalism and determinism continued through the 19th and 20th centuries with the rise of logical positivism and behaviorism. By the 19th century, Darwin and Marx had revealed a view of nature and humanity which not only lacks any need for a supernatural creator, but actually recruits the fantasy of a supernatural creator to serve species-centric sociological functions. In the modern era, the voices within science about religion are generally atheistic and see religion as dangerous superstitious nonsense which should have been cured already by more effective public education. While privately many scientists are religious and do not seem to have problem reconciling natural and supernatural influences, the public face of science is seen to be at odds with religion.

The religious view of science

Looking at the same progression of the scientific era from the other perspective, modern religion ranges in its response to science from the extremely intolerant to the extremely supportive. Fundamentalist religion is often antagonistic toward science, seeing it as a godless, corrupt influence which is blinkered by human arrogance and endangers the world with hubris. Other religions and religious individuals celebrate science as a way to become closer to God through God-given reason and understanding.

The thinking view of feeling

Along the lines of the scientific view of religion, the objective view of subjects, and the entropy view of significance, the thinking view of feeling is that emotion is a threat to rational thought. The highly developed human intellect comes to define itself as superior to animal urges and soft-headed sentimentality. There are some vestigial qualities of appreciation for logic and mathematics which are still deemed worthy – the satisfaction of solving a difficult mystery, or the secular version of awe at the vastness of space or the scales of infinitesimal particles.

The feeling view of thinking

The feeling view of thinking is supported by the use of psychoactive drugs. We can see clearly that how we think is not a pristine structure that exists above the material world but dependent on a fragile matrix of biochemical conditions. Thoughts are just as susceptible to bias as emotions are, and the reductionist style of logical thought can actually exacerbate that bias and crystallize it so that it out lasts the more merciful fluctuations of feeling.

The physical view of consciousness

In a word: Neuroscience. The physical view of consciousness is that it is a brain function, pure and simple. Whatever chain of events that led to bipedalism and the opposable thumb happened to lead to a large, complex brain in Homo sapiens. Some bag of biochemical tricks has lead to an emergent illusion that we call consciousness or ‘ourselves’. The Hard Problem of consciousness is seen as a difficult problem at the moment, but with time and technological improvement, we will discover what makes the brain tick just as we have discovered how so many other physical processes work.

The information-theoretic view of consciousness

Cognitive science and information science conspire to produce a model of consciousness which emerges not from the biophysics of brains but from the integration of signal processing. Such integration need not be confined to organic substrates like brains but could just as easily be developed in a computer. Here too the Hard Problem of consciousness is seen as momentary obstacle, eventually to be cracked by increasing our knowledge of how organisms process sensory data.

The consciousness view of physics

This perspective can be found in non-dualist philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta or some versions of panpsychism. The appearance of physics within consciousness is really wide open, which can be considered a weakness of the position, since starting from consciousness doesn’t give us any special insight into the nature of physics, other than that it has been dreamed up within consciousness. It could evolve through experiences in some kind of mechanical process, or it could be orchestrated by creative intent, or both, or neither.

The consciousness view of information

From this perspective, information is really the replacement for physics within nondual panpsychism. Physics would be a type of information and information would be the way that experiences are represented within other experiences which are presented.

The consciousness view of the consciousness view of consciousness

From the above, I hope it is possible to connect some of the dots to see that physics and metaphysics change according to which features we make fundamental and which features we make emergent. Ultimately all of these perspectives have some value, however I do not think that they are equal. I think that the views which support our naive realism are the more sensible and natural orientation, so that views which make space, time, energy, or  information real are not as sensible as those which make all of those functions of matter. From there, matter makes the most sense to me as information, and information as a consequence of consciousness nested within itself.

What is most real, in my view, is qualia itself and the capacity for nesting and juxtaposing against itself in symmetric or anti-symmetric patterns. That is what I mean by Sense, and this list of perspectives is an example of what I mean by Multisense Realism. Different perspectives which alter each other in a relativistic way that is relatively absolute. There is almost infinite room to twist and turn the perspectives, however there is a natural ordering which wins out by necessity and that is that consciousness or qualia itself cannot be created or destroyed and is the foundation of all possible phenomena. Sanity can contain limited islands of insanity, but sanity itself cannot be born from the absence of sanity. In my understanding this fundamental sense and sanity is reflected in many ways, and the fact that sense and sanity is being reflected in these ways is also reflected in it. Some obvious examples are the properties of light, color, music, and geometry. Mythology and storytelling, astronomy, language, alphabets, number systems are also rich with signs of sense.

The difference between a maze and a labyrinth is this:

“A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, may have multiple entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth is unicursal i.e. has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point.”

I think that what we have in this is a holo-graphic uni-verse in which the holo/uni is the unicursal center and the graphic-verse is the maze-like end. The holos-labyrinth intentionally pretends to be a maze, while the maze masks that intention. In this way, questions like “Can God make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it” are answered in a qualified affirmative. The answer is “Yes”, but first God must make himself less than God to be a stone lifter. While we are alive, the holos view is usually hidden, so our days are filled with dead ends and multicursal meanderings. Perhaps after death, or many deaths, we transcend one level of human limitation and another level of holos is revealed? In any case, I think that the fact that sense exists at all is enough to push the needle to the unicursal side of the meter. Every time we make sense of something, a knot is untangled and the string becomes easier to use to pull ourselves back to the center. Teleology pushes us forward in physical time to go backward in metaphysical time, while physics provides resistance through entropy.

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  1. July 31, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    very nice piece

  2. Danial Sonik
    August 1, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    Great post! I have to say, Craig, you are one of my favorite writers on the interwebs —

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